For the past three weeks, we’ve been sharing books that have been nominated in the 2013 CYBILS Awards. With limited resources, I told myself that I’d take whatever books I could find in the online catalog. I was surprised to find a copy of Sally Gardner’s Maggot Moon, and it felt good knowing that a book with such a peculiar title, published not too long ago, was available in our library.
I picked up Maggot Moon from the YA shelf, and it was love at first sight. Maggot Moon was shortlisted for the Young Adult Speculative Fiction genre of the 2013 CYBILS Awards. Although it was one of the books that got away and did not make it to the 2013 CYBILS finalists, it’s worth noting that Maggot Moon won the 2012 Costa Book Awards and the 2013 CILIP Carnegie Medal, the same award that Patrick Ness received in 2012 with A Monster Calls.
Maggot Moon is divided into one hundred short chapters and the story is told in the point of view of fifteen-year-old Standish Treadwell. This dystopian tale is set in the 1950s, post-war, in a place called Motherland that functions under a totalitarian rule. This fascist setting is reminiscent of Nazi Germany, though milder and less harrowing.
Standish Treadwell is a boy with different-colored eyes. This makes him an easy target for bullying, especially from a group of students led by Hans Fielder. In the following passage, Standish Treadwell bravely recalls this nightmarish experience:
I hated [school]. I believed it was invented just so the bullies, with brains the size of dried-up dog turds, could beat the shit out of kids likes me. A kid with different-colored eyes: one blue eye, one brown, and the dubious honor of being the only boy in the whole of his class of fifteen-year-olds who couldn’t spell, couldn’t write…
[Little Eric Owen’s] main duty was to see which way I was heading home every day and give the signal to Hans Fielder and his merry men. The boys needed something to get their teeth into. The chase would be on. I ended up being caught and beaten every frick-fracking time. Don’t think I didn’t give as good as I got, because I did. But I didn’t stand much of a chance when there were seven of them.
— pp. 21-22
Standish Treadwell’s peculiarity is deemed undesirable, an impurity that the Motherland does not tolerate. Luckily, Standish has his Gramps, the only person that still pulled at the gravity in him. He also has his friend Hector who understands him and believes that there is more going on inside that brain of his than the brains of all those living in Motherland combined.
In the midst of Motherland’s socio-political chaos and her ceaseless preparations to win the Space Race and be the first nation to land on the moon, Standish and Hector discover a dark secret that Motherland does not want anyone to know. The events that follow become a race against time. Hector believes that Standish Treadwell, the boy who sees things differently than the “train-track thinkers,” is the only one who can put an end to Motherland’s cruelty and foolish dreams.
Not since Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I have read half a year ago, have I been moved by a book, and a YA novel at that. As I have noted on my personal page, Maggot Moon punched me right in the gut. It’s beautiful in a painfully emotional kind of way.
Gramps put his finger to his mouth. He pointed to a piece of paper on the table. It had writing on it. His handwriting. I knew what it said. I didn’t need the written words to tell me…
I felt the scream rise. Gramps caught hold of me and we toppled on the floor. We were both crying. Gramps held his hand firmly over my mouth.
I still have that scream in me.
— p. 146
This is the first book by Sally Gardner that I have read, and I think her writing is exceptional. Like Standish Treadwell, Sally Gardner was also branded as “un-teachable” when she was in school. She was able to overcome this hurdle in her life and became an avid spokesperson for dyslexia. Watch this inspiring TedxYouth talk of Piper Otterbein to find out what it was like for a child with dyslexia.
Maggot Moon is a book that goes beyond dyslexia, however. Sally Gardner has created a new, powerful voice for teenagers in the persona of Standish Treadwell. He wipes the window of his mind and soul clean so we, the readers, can see through. The storytelling is raw and haunting. Readers are able to witness the gamut of images, real or otherwise, that Standish Treadwell sees through his different-colored eyes.
I don’t know anyone who has read Maggot Moon but I am glad that there are a few people I know who have shown interest in the book. Maggot Moon is not just a story of a boy who daydreams about ice-cream-colored Cadillacs, a house full of Croca-Colas, and a garden that looks as if the grass was Hoovered. This book redefines contemporary YA literature. Maggot Moon is an unforgiving and affecting tale that exposes cruelty and extortion, and portrays the power of kindness and the human spirit. Standish Treadwell’s voice deserves to be heard. His story demands to be felt.
Make no mistake about it. Maggot Moon is a frick-fracking hell of a good read!